France becomes first country in 50 years to make abortion a constitutional right

France has become the first country in 50 years to make abortion a constitutional right - with the country's government saying the move is in response to a tightening of laws in the US.

In an exceptional joint session of parliament convened at the Palace of Versailles, the bill was approved in a 780-72 vote.

Both houses of parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, had already adopted a bill to amend Article 34 of the French constitution to specify that "the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed".

"We're sending a message to all women: your body belongs to you and no one can decide for you," Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told MPs and senators gathered for a special vote under the gilded ceilings of Versailles.

There were jubilant scenes of celebration in the hall and all over France as women's rights activists hailed the measure promised by President Emmanuel Macron following a rollback of abortion rights in the United States, where the Supreme Court overturned a 50-year-old ruling that used to guarantee it in 2022.

The introduction to the French legislation said: "Unfortunately, this event (in the US) is not isolated: in many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy if they wish."

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Macron welcomed the "entry of a new freedom guaranteed in the constitution" and invited the public to attend a sealing ceremony on International Women's Day on 8 March.

Mr Macron said last week that his government was committed to "making women's right to have an abortion irreversible by enshrining it in the constitution".

None of France's major political parties represented in parliament has questioned the right to abortion, which was decriminalised in the country in 1975.

Polls show about 80% of French people support the fact that abortion is legal.

Today's vote makes France the first country to have a constitutional right to abortion since the former Yugoslavia inscribed it in its 1974 constitution. The 2006 constitution of Serbia, which was part of Yugoslavia until it broke up in the 1990s, carries on that spirit, stating that "everyone has the right to decide on childbirth".

Laura Slimani, from the Fondation des Femmes rights group, said on Monday evening: "This right (to abortion) has retreated in the United States. And so nothing authorised us to think that France was exempt from this risk.

"There's a lot of emotion, as a feminist activist, also as a woman," Ms Slimani said.

Mr Macron has reportedly been hoping the constitutional revision will set him apart from France's far-right National Rally party ahead of the European election in June.

The National Rally is ahead in the polls as the election gets closer, and 46 of its 88 MPs, including three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen voted in favour of the constitutional revision.

But Ms Le Pen accused Mr Macron of using the bill to score political points.

"We will vote to include it in the constitution because we have no problem with that," Ms Le Pen told reporters ahead of the Versailles vote, while adding that it was an exaggeration to call it a historic step because, she said, "no one is putting the right to abortion at risk in France".

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Amending the constitution is a rare event in France. Since it was enacted in 1958, the French constitution has been amended 17 times.

The last time was in 2008, when parliament was awarded more powers and French citizens were granted the right to bring their grievances to the Constitutional Court.